Ratings : 4/5
Parsons’ books never disappoint. He writes in such dexterity about family, love, relationships, not only you fall in love with the endearing characters he had created, you learn a thing or two about what matters in life.
This book does the same thing. The common theme that stretches across the entire book is about second chance. If we deserves or can we find a second chance at happiness in life?
- Can Alfie’s Budd finds love after losing his wife in a diving accident?
- Does Alfie’s dad deserves passion and love after leaving his mother and going off with domestic helper Lena in search of true love?
- Can Jackie make it to college to get a degree after spending the past decade beaten by ex-husband, raising her daughter by cleaning and scouring West End London?
- Can Alfie’s students find better life in London after their degree or going back to their home country?
The book begins with Alfie’s coming home from Hong Kong, recalling his life in Hong Kong, his romance with Rose and losing his wife, Rose in a diving accident. He then comes home and became an English teacher to Churchill International Language school in London teaching foreign students English. He then goes through one transient relationship to another. Yumi, the blonde hair Japanese; Hiroko, the love sick, being dumped, priggish Japanese; Olga, the Russian beauty waiting for her boyfriend to leave his wife, whom Alfie made pregnant; Vanessa, the French woman. Things get a bit vulgar at this point, and I was ready to mark this book down as one of the least appealing in Parsons writings.
Then he met Jackie, the cleaning lady who owns her own company. Jackie raises her daughter Plum alone. Plum who is overweight and always get bullied by someone in school. But she had a dream to go to University of Greenwich to study English Literature. She said:
“I’ll be a lot older than the other students. I’ve been married, I’ve got kid. Most of them probably still get their washing done by their mums. And when they go off to their wild parties, I’ll be working. I’ll still have to work, you know.”
“But you’ll think you’ll be happier?” asked Alfie.
“I know I’ll be happier. I’ll be doing what I want to do. I’ll be making something of my life. For myself and my daughter. And it will be interesting. Great writers, great writings, talking about ideas, being around people who care about books, who don’t worry about getting above themselves. I can’t wait.”
Alfie realised that, Jackie, the impoverished Essex girl, might be the one.
Alfie also harbours an admiration to George Chang who taught him tai-chi. He said:
I wanted to be like him. Pure as that.
Calm without being passive. strong without being aggressive. a family man without being a soft potato. a decent heart in a healthy body. Those were the lessons that I wanted George Chan to teach me, because I know that I would not learn them from my real father.
The book ends with a heartwarming note, in Hong Kong again, crossing the straits in Star Ferry and chat up a Chinese girl who speaks good English. For awhile you would think Alfie had lost everything that he came so close to having it. It’s Tony Parson’s book, many of his books ended in a bitter sweet note, but not this one.
So the answer to my previous questions is Yes. What Alfie’s dad did was not morally correct. I do not condone pursuing second chance at the expense of others to serve selfish end. We only live once. We should be a dream machine. We can always try again and again to achieve our dreams even if it seems distant. Because at the end of the road is death, much like Alfie’s nan battling cancer, Life is fragile. It would end very soon. Better to try than not to try at all. A second chance in anything that you may wish for in life.
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